Decades ago, the American Dream was pretty simple. If you could afford to buy expensive things, like a car or a house with a white picket fence, you were doing pretty well. Most of the time, you had to buy with cash or a large downpayment. People saved for years and years to buy big ticket items. They tightened their belts and budgeted down to every last penny. With the explosion of buying things on credit and having long-term loans, it seems most people have lost the concept of earning nice things. People max out their credit cards or take out multiple loans in order to get something they feel they deserve. Do you know the average American household has nearly $11,000 in credit card debt? I understand that times are still tough for a lot of folks, and credit cards are a necessity just to get by when you're in between jobs. But I would make a guess that not all people who carry a large balance on their cards are people who are out of work and trying to support a family.
I will acknowledge I'm part of this perversion. While my husband and I saved for 2 years for a house downpayment, it wasn't a traditional 20%. True, to save 20% to buy a house in the Seattle metro area likely means you would be saving for at least 10 years, and I know that's the case in many other parts of the country. And while we have paired down to be a one car family, we still have a loan for our car. We put down a chunk of money and got the shortest loan term we could, but we don't own either of our big ticket purchases free and clear.
On the bright side, we have ZERO credit card debt and have had it that way for nearly 3 years. And now we save for mostly everything else. Taking a vacation? We have a vacation fund...if we can't afford it, we wait until we can. How about a shiny, new appliance, like an energy efficient washing machine that I've been lusting after? We're saving up to hopefully buy one in the fall. We have a 6-9 month emergency fund that we spent a year to build in case something drastic happens. We don't have the desire (or ability, after becoming a one income family) to go out and spend a ton of money on non-essential items.
I understood the concept of earning better when I was 12 than I do now. If there wasn't enough money in my wallet, I couldn't get it. I could do more household chores or babysit more neighbors, but I didn't have the option of buying it now and paying for it later like so many of us do today.
The question still nags me - do we earn things anymore? Often, people feel they deserve luxury or expensive things because they work hard, or they're a good person, or insert other reasons here. And while I'm all for celebrating success and rewarding ourselves, does it come at too high a price? Keeping up with the Joneses is costing us big time.
What do you think? Do we earn things anymore? What was the last big ticket item you purchased? Did you charge it and pay it off little by little, or did you save for awhile and pay for it all up front? How did it feel?